Women With Eating Disorders In Canada
Of those who have eating disorders in Canada, 90 to 95 per
cent are female. Many people with eating disorders are known to have suffered a
trauma such as psychological, physical, or sexual abuse, or be part of a family
in which the caregivers are addicted to alcohol or drugs. However, many people
with eating disorders have not experienced such traumas. An eating disorder may
have no single cause. In someone who is vulnerable, a disorder can be triggered
by an event one doesn’t know how to handle, which can be as common as being teased
or as devastating as rape or incest. An eating disorder often begins when the
person is dealing with a difficult transition: puberty, a new school, the
breakup of a relationship. Every person’s experience is unique, but often the
person who develops an eating disorder feels shame, disgust, and anger about
their body. Some feel a need to purify or even punish their bodies. They feel
powerless to change anything else in their lives.
There are two main types of eating disorders: anorexia
nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both are characterized by excessive concern about
one’s weight and shape and a negative, distorted body image. Although a person
may be under weight, when he/she looks in a mirror, he/she sees herself as obese.
He/she thinks that others also consider her mammoth in size, even if you think he/she
looks skeletal when you see their thin arms and legs.
Of the women in Canada between the ages of fourteen and
twenty-five, an estimated 2 per cent suffer from anorexia, a condition defined
as drastic weight loss caused by self-induced starvation. It can, however,
begin earlier. As a child, the individual may begin by eliminating desserts
from her meals. Then she may also exclude bread. She could go on to deny
herself more and more food until she’s eating only vegetables and water.
Eventually she may try to exist on water alone. The anorexic may go to the
extreme of counting the calories she consumes from the glue after licking a
Behind this potentially fatal illness is a girl’s strong
desire to control everything and to become thin. Some may already be painfully
thin in their parents’ eyes; others become anorexic because they were
overweight children, were either ostracized or encouraged to diet, and were
praised when they lost pounds. Anorexics believe their only problem is being
too fat. They have a distorted body image and don’t recognize how underweight they are, which
makes it difficult for them to recognize that they need treatment.
Typically the anorexic makes up excuses to miss meals. Most
teenagers have voracious appetites, but if your daughter often says that she
had a huge lunch and doesn’t want dinner, you might well be alert to other
indicators of anorexia.
The British Columbia Ministry of Health includes the
following as signs of anorexia:
• She develops obsessions about food and recipes. An
anorexic may eat vicariously by grocery shopping, by watching cooking shows, or
by cooking food for others.
• She develops unusual eating habits. She may cut her food
into tiny pieces or eat only the crumbs that others leave behind.
• She always feels cold.
• She shows a noticeable weight loss.
• She involves herself in excessive exercise. As a way of
burning calories, an anorexic may spend hours in the gym or go on day-long